Working Mother magazine today announces its annual 100 Best Companies, honoring companies committed to family-friendly policies that allow mothers to succeed at home and work. With more working women becoming their families’ primary breadwinners during the recession, family-friendly benefits are more important than ever. Sadly, at the time when it’s needed most, we’ve seen a general shift away from such policies. The Working Mother 100 Best Companies, on the other hand, continue to improve. We asked Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, to tell us about the findings. Q: Aside from the order of the rankings, what’s new this year? Evans: Our focus this year was on the basics: Parental Leave, Flex and Benefits. Some new things we saw this year included more companies adding Health Advocates, Resiliency Training, Sabbatical/re-entry programs, Meditation/reflection rooms. There seemed to be an overall focus on employee wellness during tough times, with many companies proud of the fact that they have expanded or at least held steady on their work-life budgets in a recession. Q: In some cases, an employer is touted as a best company because of its overall policies, but they’re not always applicable to every department or position. How can an employee at a company in the Top 100 approach his or her manager with a request for flexibility that leverages its position on the list—without fear of backlash? Evans: The Working Mother 100 Best Companies application measures both access to programs and usage of programs and policies. As the sophistication of the list evolved over the last 24 years we realized that we needed to find out if there was broad access to programs so that people who didn’t work in headquarters or weren’t at the management level were being served. This led to many companies offering voucher programs for child care, for example, when they couldn’t use the on-site center that the company offered. After we measured access we decided to start measuring usage of programs and policies. We ask how many employees use the family friendly policies because this data gets at two things: 1.) Is there a stigma that exists when moms use policies and 2.) Are the companies marketing the programs and policies to all employees so that they encourage usage. These additional questions changed the list and raised the commitment to a whole new level for our winners. Q: What are the lessons from your findings for jobseekers who want flexible work options, but are seeking employment with small companies? Evans: People who are seeking employment with small companies should find out if their prospective employer offers these four staples that are often found at small companies. 1. Flexible work arrangements 2. Child care subsidies 3. Paid maternity leave 4. Resource and Referral services Not all small companies will have all of these benefits but it’s important to ask. Many small companies provide as much as the larger companies. Attitude counts as well. If the culture is supportive of moms you can often customize your work arrangements to meet your fluctuating needs. Click here for the complete list.